Norwich schools seek 5 percent reductions in tuition, contract agreements

Norwich — School officials are requesting 5 percent cuts in tuition rates and all contracts in place for this school year or deferment of 10 percent of the contracted costs to next fiscal year in an effort to cut $4 million from the current school budget to reach the $78.46 million total approved by the City Council.

The Board of Education had requested an $83 million budget for 2018-19 and had threatened to take the city to court if adequate funding were not provided. But on June 28, after meeting behind closed doors with the board’s attorney, the board voted to approve the $78.46 million total.

The board requested Superintendent Abby Dolliver to ask all contractors, vendors and schools where Norwich pays tuition to renegotiate their contracts with Norwich. The board asked Dolliver to report results of the negotiations at the Nov. 13 Board of Education meeting.

Dolliver said school officials have identified about 400 entities that either have contracts or provide goods and services through purchase orders. Not all will be sent the letters drafted Tuesday by the board’s attorney, but many will receive the letters.

Dolliver provided sample letters to The Day on Tuesday: one for a tuition entity and one for contractor. The letters contain the same language summarizing the school system’s budget problem and stated that “based on the significant shortfall in the educational appropriations provided by the City,” the school board has asked Dolliver to seek renegotiations to reduce the $4 million gap.

“Specifically,” the letter to tuition schools stated, “we are requesting a 5 % reduction in the cost of tuition/student services for Norwich students during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. Alternatively, we are requesting that you consider a payment plan for the Board by which 10 % of the Board’s payments for tuition/student services for Norwich students during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019 would be deferred until the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.

“The restructuring of the cost of tuition/student services as outlined above,” the letter continued, “would assist the Board in reducing the shortfall between its expenses and its appropriations from the City for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019.”

Officials at Norwich Free Academy, the city’s main designated high school, declined to comment on the request “until we are in receipt of official correspondence from the Norwich Public Schools Board of Education,” the school said in an email statement.

Dolliver said there are some services that don’t have contracts, such as the hourly rates the school system pays to tutors and summer school special education specialists. She and Jamie Bender, director of student services and special education, said Norwich already has lower rates than surrounding school districts. Norwich pays $34.53 per hour for tutors who are certified teachers and $20.80 for noncertified tutors.

Bender said Norwich needs four special education nurses and speech pathologists for summer school programs. Norwich pays $35 per hour for nurses and $63 per hour for speech pathologists. She said one other school district pays $100 per hour for speech pathologists.

The Norwich program is working with substitute nurses and assistant speech pathologists, who need to be supervised by a speech pathologist.

c.bessette@theday.com

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